I meet the RSC’s Artistic Director Greg Doran at his office on a dank January morning to discuss the Winter 2017 prior to it being officially announced. After much speculation in the Herald office, I am bursting to know what the festive offering will be this year. Naturally it is the first question I ask.
Greg smiles, like he is delivering a lovely present. “For Christmas, David Edgar has written us a new adaptation of A Christmas Carol. David of course famously did Nicholas Nickleby.
“It is delightful and unexpected and very brilliant,” says Greg clearly grappling with how to convey the magnificence of such a wonderful coup.
“Rachel Kavanaugh is directing and Stephen Brimson Lewis, is designing it. Whether Stephen is going to be using any of the elements of the technology he was part of in The Tempest, we’ll see but I know that it will be a bit more rough magic than that, I guess,” says Greg, alluding to the technical wizardry brought by Intel and the Imaginarium Studios to 2016’s festive and flash production of The Tempest.
Speaking of how he approached the festive programming, Greg says: “What I decided to do was to put a Shakespeare and a Christmas classic, a family show, together.
“It always struck me that Twelfth Night was a great Christmas play, so I asked Chris Luscombe, who did such a great job on Love’s Labour’s Lost and Love’s Labour’s Won that I thought he would be perfect for that combination.”
Greg continues: “My initial idea was that Scrooge and Malvoli would be the same actor, but they have decided that meant the poor old actor wouldn’t get a night off for several months. So I’m not sure they will follow through with that but that was one of my instincts for putting them on together.”
I should say at this point that interviewing Greg is a journalist’s dream; not only do you get a cup of coffee and sit on a comfy sofa in his lovely office, but he gives interesting answers to questions you don’t even have to ask. I sit back and relax and basically press ‘record’.
“I always find that as an artistic director,” muses Greg. “That I always think something is going to be a terribly good idea, and then you realise it’s not quite happened as you’d expected…” he pauses before becoming more animated: “… then sometimes it does!
“Like I don’t know of another director like Chris who, when I went to him and said ‘I think Much Ado is Love’s Labour’s Won and why don’t we put them together and why don’t we do them the other side of the Great Wall for 2014,’ wouldn’t be fazed. Most directors would have a) told me not to prescribe how to direct Shakespeare and, b) not done what I’d suggested with such panache and grace as Chris did. He’s perfect, and his team, composer Nigel Hess and designer Simon Higlett, created that complete world for those plays. So that gives you Twelfth Night,” Greg smiles, pleased with the gift he has unwrapped.
He continues: “So there will be the two plays together. I think he is going to give it a Victorian setting. The two plays will have a real correspondence and it will be great to see them together.”
Returning to his joy of having David Edgar’s A Christmas Carol, Greg enthuses: “It’s just wonderful to have David back with Dickens, he’s got such a passion for Dickens but he’s writing not just a sparkly Christmas show, he’s writing something that has a point — and a social point to it.”
Here I must do my journalistic job and demand to know who will be taking on the role of Scrooge — much speculated upon in the Herald offices.
“We are so near to landing it… we haven’t quite.”
At this point I mention some gossip. “I’m sure you have heard rumours!” laughs Greg. “There are all sorts of rumours! It was at one point going to be David Threlfall — we were very keen to try and find a way of reviving Don Quixote… There are some lovely names being put forward…” and with that Greg switches the subject.
“There will be music, but I don’t think it’s going to be
a musical. Of course Rachel is good at that, weaving music
in, so I’m sure that sentiment will be behind her
“It’s finding the balance between it being a family show, being Christmas entertainment and being David Edgar, so that’s what they are balancing at the moment.”
The Christmas show is the most talked about of the year, and there is a lot of expectation, does Greg feel the pressure of that?
Perhaps feeling some of the criticism directed at The Tempest (namely that the special effects distracted from the play), Greg replies: “The Tempest was a particular idea — because of all the technology. We didn’t remotely dumb the play down, but we did think that of all the Shakespeare plays, and with this particular production, that would attract a younger audience. And in fact we did find that primary schools came and really enjoyed it; there was so much to watch, we’ve had so much great feedback, and from family audiences too.
“There’s always a sense of how you bring in a different and new audience, and who then get familiar with coming to Stratford and coming to the theatre.”
Greg recalls when the RSC first did a ‘festive duo’ The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and The Winter’s Tale 16 years ago, and continues: “I love it when there’s a Shakespeare and a Christmas show together. It can be challenging,” he says. “There are big sets and an orchestra which can make change around difficult between the two but at the moment we are looking at that… In fact there’s going to be something very interesting about Simon’s design for the Victorian Christmas Carol and Steven’s Victorian design…” he teases, as if knowing a rather wonderful secret.
No doubt all will be revealed in due course, and until then anticipation will have to mount.